Wednesday, April 28, 2010

SNOW and other ramblings.

I felt that deserved all caps. It's official - I live in a high elevation. We woke up this morning to almost two inches of snow, with more falling. Yesterday I was worrying about still having my snow tires on. Today I'm not. Even though I know there is always a chance that it will snow before May - and sometimes during - my Pollyanna forecast failed me. Now I have to pull my down jacket out of the to-be-washed pile, boots out of the closet and go back to winter mode. Bernie loves the snow, so she will be especially perky this morning. Scrappy - not so much. And I will have the usual conversation about the weather when we walk by the dairy barn. I am always surprised at how much there is to discuss about the weather when you're talking to a farmer. They start at the day and project through the summer. Farming is not for wimps, that's for sure. And, while I type this, I am listening to our governor call for furloughs, cuts and tightening of belts. I wonder how much more we can ask of our farmers. Milk prices have plummeted, grain prices are still high, fuel prices on the rise again. My neighbor said he doesn't even consider stopping dairy farming - what other job would there be? Better to just grit your teeth and go day-to-day. I never realized how hard a farmer works, especially dairy farmers. There is no vacation. There are no sick days. You are in the barn two times a day, seven days a week, twelve months a year. All holidays, all weekends. Cows don't care if you have the flu. Any romantic ideas I had of myself as a dairy farmer (especially at this age) are long gone. But I still have my cow, thanks to the farmer. She resides there and, after she freshens this coming January or February, I can milk her on the weekends. It's the best deal ever. Sorry for the rambling.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hola! Miguel! And More Good News. Sort of.

Donde esta Miguel! Yes, I am one of those people who name their vehicles. My Pollyanna forecast came through - I drove up the driveway last night to find Miguel. What a sight for sore eyes. He is 20 years old (which is 250 in human years), has a manual transmission, 4W drive, and shiny black paint over tons of rust. Now you can't hear me coming unless, that is, something falls off while I'm driving. And don't ask me what I call my 2003 Ford Focus wagon. That's between the two of us girls.
On the other (sort of) good news front, my surgery has been postponed (woot!) because the damage is so great they need to come up with another, less invasive option. But it buys me more time, which I desparately need. I haven't finished cleaning the coop, I haven't dug up my spring ramps, I haven't traded hostas for comfrey with my friend, Jordan. I can now move some of the items at the bottom of the list - which used to be at the top of the list - to the top of the list again. You know what I mean, don't you? Sure thing - clear as mud ;o)

Monday, April 26, 2010


Before homesteading came into my life, I spent a lot of time and effort NOT being reliant on other people. I had to be in control at all times, and could not delegate for the life of me. Single homesteading is a humbling experience. I've had to take a deep breath and ask for help. While it still gets under my skin, relying on others has taught me more than it's taken from me. I know that I've gone on (and on) about how lucky I am to have the neighbors and friends I do, but I really AM lucky. Asking for help can be difficult. Especially if you have control issues and your own time frame.

With surgery looming, I mustered up my nerve, called a neighbor and said, "HELP!!" Vic retired and doesn't like sitting around. He showed up Friday afternoon and cut down three small gnarly trees and dug 9 holes, while I trotted behind, planting my plum trees, willow hybrids and forsythias, and transplanting my lilacs. Then he raked up all the debris, transplanted grass that had been displaced, and came back to haul away all the tree parts. Good golly.

But asking for help can also bite you - another neighbor, a farmer, offered to replace the muffler on my truck. This is great news for me - a bigger non-mechanic you couldn't find - but I forgot about farming time frames. It has been almost a month and I'm still waiting. Can I complain? No. He has to make hay while the sun shines - or, in this case, disc and harrow his fields to get ready for planting corn. It's raining today, so my Pollyanna is out in full force!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Scariest Word in a Homesteader's Vocabulary

Surgery. I don't think there is a word that strikes more fear into the heart of a single homesteader than 'surgery'. First, you go into denial - "But I CANNOT have surgery. Who will feed the sheep? I haven't cleaned out the chicken coop yet!" Then you panic. Then you start to make lists. What can you do ahead of time to make taking care of the million things you do each day easier? Forget all the projects that you have lined up. Once again, they are pushed to the bottom of your new list. Since I am having surgery to repair my left rotator cuff, this means that, while I'm mobile, I only will have the use of one hand/arm. That means opening my gates will be difficult, my method of feeding the sheep and llama will have to change. And I have to dig all those damn holes and plant my trees before May 5. It pays to think creatively and to break each task down into its simplest form. I have to get hay in and stacked where I can easily cut the baling twine with one hand. I have to set up a new feeding trough (will make this weekend) inside the fence so I can pour grain from the outside - Juno may be small, but she's a steamroller when it comes to food. I'll have to keep a bag of grain in the house, so I don't have to open gates and pry off lids. Etc. And, of course, this is where having great friends and neighbors becomes about the most important asset you can have as a single homesteader. For that, I am very grateful. Amen.
(Did you notice that I have a 'happy' picture instead of storm clouds looming over dark water? I'm being positive. I am positive that the next six week are going to stink.)


Instead of waxing all philosophical on you, I thought I would bring you up to date on some causes for small celebrations here on the homestead. First, and foremost, the turkeys were sent to freezer camp/processed/shown the door and are now residing - quietly, thank god - in MY freezer. They were both about 7 months old and their processed weight combined is well over 30 pounds! That should be enough for our usual Thanksgiving family dinner for four.
Next, Violet was freed from accidental captivity under the shed and is now back with her mates. I don't know why I always have this rosy picture of siblings reunited with my poultry. It never, ever works out that way. It is more like - OHO, who are you? An alien chicken - let's get her! And they give her the once over at ever opportunity until she is convinced that she's at the bottom and lower than dirt. Then they get over it.

I included a couple of pictures of the sheep after they were shorn. It dawned on me that it would have been a better idea to show a before and after, but that will have to wait until I wade through all my unorganized photographs. The sheep at the feeder are (l-r) Flora, her lambs Freyda and Juno, and Coco(nut). The close-up is of Coco(nut), my moorit ewe. She is very skittish, but I have been working with her and she no longer races off as soon as I look at her. I had sold her lambs last year and won't do that again. Without at least one lamb, she was shunned for weeks by Flora and her lambs. She ended up bonding with Hoosier who was nice about it.

You can see on Coco's close-up that there's a nice layer of wool left from the blade shearing. This, to my untrained mind, is a whole lot better when there's nights that drop to 20 degrees still in the forecast. They also didn't seem as stressed after shearing this year. I'm hoping that they stay reasonably clean over the summer so that I can get some quality fleeces in October. That's hard to accomplish when you have to feed hay all year, but...hope springs eternal!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

While I was talking to a friend the other night, we both used that phrase more than once. It covered a myriad of topics - the lack of dateable men, things going wrong in multiples. But hope is what keeps you putting your feet on the floor each morning - then carries you through your day, one foot in front of the other sometimes. Not that my days are bleak; they are not. Some are more difficult than others but I am always hopeful that the next day will be better.

Spring is another comforting word. Spring is the hope that gets you through the long winter. It is what springs (sorry) to mind when I look at my little herb bed and see the sorrel, mint and loveage coming up. Gone with the brown and dead - up with the green and living! The loveage makes me think of hope. The loveage was given to me as a start by a friend who recently battled a brain tumor. She was and is the most gentle and lovely woman I know - an artist and weaver of so much talent it leaves me in awe. Never once, through the long ordeal, did I hear her complain, ask "why me?", or lose her sense of humor. The first year I planted my loveage start, a neighbor's dog dug it up three times! It survived. This past winter, the bird feeder fell on it. It was a bitter cold winter with not a lot of snow on that portion of the bed. But, here it is - now two sprouts. It makes me happy and hopeful to look at it every morning. And I am hopeful that my fencing gets done this year, that the duck eggs hatch, that my friends will be healthy and happy for all of their lives, that I will find my soul mate wherever he is. As for 'eternity', I am not a believer in eternity - more so in the preciousness of the time you do have.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Selective Amnesia

I was completely, thoroughly, honestly caught off-guard by this email in my inbox this morning:

Quantity Product ID Description
-------- ---------------- -------------------------------------------------------------
1 1170 Free Gift
2 8362 Earliblue Prune-Plum Dwarf

If you have any questions or concerns please contact us at 1-800-325-4180. Thank you.
Do I have questions and concerns? You betcha! Like: What the heck was I thinking last January, sitting in the winter gloom; just me, my coffee and my Stark catalog? Concerns? Yep. How the heck am I going to squeeze in digging two large holes in my hard-pack, rock-ridden yard this week? And just what is this free gift - another thing to plant?

There is another little prickle of memory surfacing now -- it is composed of blueberry bushes and lingonberries.....

Sunny-Side Up

All of my life I have tried to be a positive-thinker, a person with a half-full glass of life. As time has passed, I have realized that I am not, naturally, a Pollyanna. My moods are not only tied to the availability of light and season, but reaching this point of midde age has afforded me a lot of material to mull over on those insomniac nights. It is downright scary to realize how easy it is to plunge into darkness. But, no matter how easy it is to just drift off to those dark spaces, it is so much healthier to flip yourself sunny-side up. So that is what I do. There are some days when I am busier than a one-armed, short-order cook in a popular breakfast joint - flipping those thoughts sunny-side up, left and right. Hey - can I use that on my resume??

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shearing Day!

What a great day for shearing! The weather was perfect, the sheep were not too badly behaved, the shearer was awesome, and it turned into a party. I couldn't have asked for anything more.

This year I was lucky enough to get on Kevin Ford's shearing list. He is the pre-eminent blade shearer in our area and one of the best anywhere, IMHO. My neighbor down the road, Schuyler, had used him and invited me to add my sheep to his list. Thanks to him, I realized that I still have a lot to learn about my Icelandics. (Surprise!) They typically are shorn twice a year, as the winter fleece tends to felt. Yes, indeed. And, they don't jacket well, as ALL their fleece then tends to felt. Yes, indeed.
One of the benefits of blade shearing is that a nice short layer of wool is left on the sheep - this is very handy when the temperatures go down into the 20s at night. And I was very happy to find that three of the four ewes showed no signs of internal parasites - only Juno needed a drench (and a shot of Vitamin E/Selenium, just in case). This was also an excuse to invite all my farming women friends (and a husband and son) to lunch afterward. There is so much good, vital energy amongst these women. The conversations are animated and interesting, information is passed around (as are recipes). At one point during the afternoon, I just stood and looked at them all and felt amazingly lucky.

Kevin with Flora, my 9 yo ewe. She is the sweetest sheep. I kept her twin ewe lambs from last year, Juno and Freyda. Both of them were shorn for the first time. After I assured Kevin that both lambs were just like their sweet-tempered, calm mother, they started bouncing around like crazy things. He has a great 'way' about him with the sheep - he moves quietly and steadily and reassures them from time to time. It was fascinating to watch him in action.

Since I do not have the hang of the photo layout yet, I will post the "after" shots in a separate post! Just call me technically challenged.